The sangha’s regulation of human contact and attachment

The last assigned poem in the Theragatha collection entitled Bhaddiya Kaligodhayaputta (Thag 16.7) outlines the transformation a man underwent in the way he chose to conduct his life. He formerly lived luxuriously by wearing extravagant clothing and enjoying fine food, but divorced himself of those things by accepting and being content with whatever God gave him. Almost every stanza concludes with, “delighting in whatever falls into his bowl, Bhaddiya, son of Godha, does jhana without clinging”. While I am not completely clear on what the term “jhana” means, it is defined as, “a meditative state of profound stillness and concentration in which the mind becomes fully immersed and absorbed in the chosen object of attention. It is the cornerstone in the development of Right Concentration” (Access to Insight 2005). From this definition, I gather that jhana is a specific kind of meditation practice in which a person fixates on a particular thing. Connecting this concept back to the poem, it states that Bhaddiya practices jhana “without clinging”, implying that he is able to deeply concentrate on something while not letting it overcome him.
This poem really helped clarify the goal of the Buddhist religion for me. While greed, aversion and delusion serve as the main causes of suffering according to Buddhist doctrine (Gethin 85), these three weaknesses seem to derive from the same condition: attachment or clinging, as the poem states. The sangha inhibits the possibility of attachment by regulating what and how much its members own and receive. This creates an environment in which attachment to tangible things (both human and nonhuman) is substituted with learning how to conduct a life of not only humbleness and simplicity, but a life founded on the traditional ‘bases of merit’, which include generosity, ethical conduct and meditation (Gethin 102).
What I find most interesting about the sangha is the way in which it frames and conceptualizes sexual practices. Gethin outlines the ten precepts, one of them being “to refrain from all sexual activity” and then discusses the different categories that offenses fall into based on their varying levels of severity. Monks could commit four offenses which would result in expulsion from the sangha, and having sexual intercourse is one of them. “The failure to keep his vow of celibacy undermines one of the defining characteristics of the Buddhist monk: he has renounced the ordinary ‘household’ life of wife, children, and family; furthermore sexual abstinence is associated with channeling one’s energies towards spiritual attainments” (Gethin 89). While there is such an emphasis on monastic members divorcing themselves of tangible belongings, engaging in sex seems to exist on the same plane. The mention of sex possibly leading to the creation of a family suggests that having relationships with human beings can be just as dangerous as owning nonhuman objects. Moreover, the idea that having sex will rid someone of the ability to act spiritually is a very interesting and an almost unexpected concept. While this idea was not very developed in Gethin’s chapter, it is worth looking further into, as it could provide a great deal of insight into how Buddhism uses celibacy to guide monastics into lives of homelessness, the foundation of monastic life.

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